Monday, June 05, 2017

Fr. Rutler: Pentecost was not an occasion for 'Enthusiasm'

Fr. George W. Rutler's article, "Pentecost Was Not An Occasion for 'Enthusiasm'" (Crisis Magazine, June 1, 2017), has all the appearance of being timed in anticipation of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal's celebration of it's Golden Jubilee on Pentecost Sunday.

After meandering through a number of typically learned and eloquent distractions, the irrepressible Fr. Rutler comes round to his thesis: how the Catholic Charismatic movement, like the Montanist enthusiasms of the ancient Church, is a heretical distortion. While "not unsympathetic toward the noble integrity of John Wesley," he writes, Monsignor Ronald Knox, in his masterwork entitled Enthusiasm, "holds up the spiritist movements from the second century Montanists to the latter day Quakers, Jansenists, and Quietists as examples of how people go to extremes to confuse themselves emotionally with the Holy Spirit."

Turning his attention to Phrygia of Asia Minor in what is now Turkey during the second century, Rutler writes:
A convert priest named Montanus stirred up a lot of excitement when he confused himself with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed various “prophecies” while in a trance like a sort of divine ventriloquist. In the manner of a typical fanatic so defined, he was confident that God would agree with him if only God had all the facts. In a languid and dissolute period, the local churches already having become formalistic and arid (contrary to romantic depictions of the uniform zeal of all early Christians, and not unlike the motivation of John Wesley to stir up the dormant Church of England), the ardor of Montanus attracted many as far as North African and Rome itself, not all of whom were innocent of neurosis. Even the formidable mind of Tertullian welcomed it. Sensational outbursts of emotion were thought to be divinely inspired, and the formal clerical structure of the Church was caricatured as the sort of rigidity that quenches the spirit. Avowing that prophecy did not end with the last apostles, new messages were pronounced, false speaking in tongues pretending to be actual languages was encouraged, and women like Priscilla and Maximilla left their husbands and decided that they could be priestesses and prophetesses.

In the twentieth century, the Montanist heresy sprung up again. The Pentecostal sects, and even many Catholics were attracted to “re-awakenings” that gave the impression that the Paraclete promised by Christ who never lied had finally come awake having slumbered pretty much since the early days of the Church. While its extreme forms were bizarre, such as dancing in churches and uncontrolled laughter and barking like dogs while rolling on the floor, any quest for novelty quickly grows bored, for nothing goes out of fashion so fast as the latest fashion.

... Heresies are fads. The estimable Servant of God Father John Hardon, whose talks would never be called ecstatic, bluntly said that the modern Charismatics are Montanists. It is true that the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church wisely was blessed insofar as it not denigrate from or add to authentic dogma. But in the second century the pope Eleutherius was inclined to condone the Montanists too, until the anti-Tertullian theologian Praxeas explained its problems.
More to it, of course, but that seems to be intended nub of something like a warning shot across the bow of the unbridled ubiquitous ebullience of the present season.

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